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German government, opposition at odds over snooping allegations

Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and the opposition are continuing to trade barbs over a spying affair. Now a senior member of the opposition Social Democrats may have to face a parliamentary committee.

One of the two Free Democrat members of the committee that oversees the work of Germany's intelligence agencies has called for it to invite the Social Democrats' parliamentary floor leader, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to appear for questioning.

Hartfrid Wolf told the Friday edition of the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Steinmeier had "laid the ground work for the current cooperation between the BND (German intelligence agency) and NSA (US National Security Agency)."

Steinmeier has found himself at the center of the affair after a statement from a government spokesman in Berlin on Wednesday who said the Social Democrat politician was responsible for a bilateral agreement which governs the sharing of information between the BND and the NSA. Steinmeier was former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff in 2002 when the accord was signed, just months after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

However, Steinmeier has denied that that agreement allowed for the general surveillance of Germans' internet activities and telephone calls, as US whistle-blower Edward Snowden has claimed.

The ongoing controversy was reignited up by a report from the online version of the Spiegel newsmagazine last weekend, which said the BND had been forwarding large quantities of information, including text and email data, to the NSA.

The opposition has sought to make the snooping affair a major issue in the campaign for the September 22 federal election, but so far there is little indication that it is having much of an impact on voters. A recent opinion poll published by public broadcaster ARD gave Merkel's conservatives a lead of 16 percentage points over the Social Democrats.

pfd/dr (Reuters, dpa, AFP)